The Israeli military will not be opening a criminal investigation into the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed during a military operation in Jenin last week, even as it presses on with its probe.
Abu Akleh, 51, from Beit Hanina, was struck by a bullet to the head while covering an IDF raid on Wednesday that saw heavy clashes with Palestinian gunmen in Jenin.
“In view of the nature of the operational activity, which included intense fighting and extensive exchanges of fire, it was decided that there was no need to open a Military Police investigation at this stage,” read a statement. “The decision was made in accordance with the Judea and Samaria investigative policy, as approved by the Supreme Court, according to which it does require the opening of a criminal investigation into the death of a Palestinian during operational activity with real combat, unless there is real suspicion of a criminal offense.”
An investigation into the shooting is being led by Commando Brigade head Col. Meni Liberty.
The military said they entered Jenin in order to carry out arrests and were met by “widespread and uncontrolled gunfire,” as well as accurate shots and improvised explosive devices hurled toward troops. Abu Akleh was killed toward the end of the raid on the outskirts of Burkin near the West Bank city.
According to a report in Haaretz, there were six different instances in which Israeli troops opened fire toward armed Palestinians who were near Abu Akleh.
While it remains impossible to determine the source of the bullet, there were several possibilities that could have led to her death, according to the preliminary investigation. One possibility was that as part of the attempt to hit troops, Palestinian gunmen fired hundreds of bullets from several points.
Another possibility is that Israeli forces fired several bullets from a special slit in their jeep through a telescopic sight toward the gunmen.
“There remains the possibility” that the reporter who was standing near the gunmen “was hit by the forces’ shots against the terrorists,” the army said, adding that she had been 200 meters (more than 650 feet) from the troops.
All Palestinian witnesses, including the other journalists who were with the victim, have denied that there were gunmen in the vicinity, and have blamed soldiers for shooting her.
Though the Palestinians have continued to refuse to work with Israel on the investigation into her death, “getting the bullet for a professional ballistic examination may determine between the options,” the army said.
Though it has still not been determined who fired the bullet that hit Abu Akleh, her death sparked international outrage against Israel and the IDF. The Palestinian Authority believes that Israel is criminally liable for her death. Scenes from her funeral in which police can be seen beating mourners holding her casket have only heightened the sense that Israel bears responsibility for the killing.
The left-wing NGO Yesh Din charged that the IDF had abdicated its responsibility by refusing to conduct a criminal investigation, noting that it didn’t even bother to worry about appearances.
Eighty percent of IDF investigations into the wrongdoing of its soldiers that the NGO has tracked were closed, Yesh Din said.
Apparently, the army’s image and the politics of the situation matter more than truth and justice, the NGO added.
Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra told Israeli and Palestinian leaders he met with that it was “critically important that a full and thorough and transparent investigation is being conducted.”
Hoekstra told those he met with that his country supported a joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation since that type of investigation had the best chance of providing answers that would be accepted by both sides.